Wednesday, April 22, 2009

PILEATED PASSION

There’s an old saying among racecar drivers that it’s better to be lucky than good…meaning serendipitous circumstance often has a way of trumping equipment and skill. This is equally true when it comes to photography. Sometimes all the preparation, fancy gear, and experience can’t replace just being there at the right moment. The sequence of photos of the pileated woodpecker pair are due mostly to luck—though I’d like to think I rather professionally pressed the shutter release button. Also, my description doubtless lacks proper ornithological terminology. I could spend a few hours researching and edit my text to read more scientifically. But I just shot these photos yesterday evening and wanted to share them as today's post—so those of you who do know better will, I hope, excuse my amateur’s enthusiasm. The photos themselves aren’t very good. They were shot in really low light at nearly 7:00 p.m. under heavy overcast; it rained perhaps five minutes later. The lens was a 200mm, hand-held at 1/50 of a second, there being no time to grab a tripod or adjust camera sensitivity settings. I’ve cropped and enlarged the images, done what I could to enhance them given the limitations of iPhoto and what I had to work with. Poor as they are, they’re actually better than I’d expected or dared hope. Please double-click for a better view.
The two pileateds in the tree—the male is on the left.
Regular readers of this blog have often heard me mention the pair of pileated woodpeckers which live on the long, narrow, wooded island across the river’s mainstream from the cottage. Every once in a while they flap over to check out the dead limbs on various trees in my yard, or grab a handy meal from the suet feeders suspended near the house. I tirelessly stalk them, sneaking to the room with the most convenient window in yet another attempt to add a few pileated images to my files. Nine times out of ten the wild-as-a-buck woodpeckers spot me first and vamoose. A game of hide-and-seek which is both frustrating and fun.
The male (still left) hops onto the female's branch and approaches.
Last evening, as I was having dinner, the male pileated flew across the water and landed about 20 feet up in a tree that’s perhaps 75 feet from the house. Luckily, my camera was within reach. As I took a couple of shots, I saw a second pileated heading over—the female. She landed close to the male, perhaps 8 feet away. Even though it had already grown darker, I took a few frames, not really expecting them to be usable, but wanting to try anyway. A moment later, the male transferred over to the same horizontal branch as the female, then began edging her way. I took additional shots.
The male pileated flies onto the female.
When the male pileated reached the female’s side, he spread his wings and jumped, mounting her for mating. No preamble, no billing and cooing beforehand—just skedaddle close and hop.
Mating!
The mating process took perhaps 15 seconds. The male came off and I noticed his flaming red crest sticking up and spread apart like the fingers on your hand. He sat beside the female for maybe 20 seconds, crest extended as if posing, then flew back to the place on the tree where he’d first landed when flying over from the island. Here he immediately began poking up the trunk looking for insects. A wham-bam-thank-you-mam romance if ever I saw one!
"LOOK AT MY CREST!"
The female sat tight, head down, not moving a muscle for at least 45 seconds. After this, she straightened, shook her head, glanced toward the male, and simply sat a while longer before flying to another nearby tree where she began her own meal investigations."Was it good for you?"
I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods over the years, and a lot of time watching plieated woodpeckers—and I can tell you I’ve never seen them mating. Whether witnessing such an event is truly rare, or simply rare to me, I don’t know…but I’m betting it isn’t something even the most serious birder sees every day.
"Not even dinner together…?"
I felt lucky to have seen this moment of woodpecker intimacy…and glad I have the images I do and can share them with you. Let me know what you think.

32 comments:

Lynne said...

You are so lucky to have witnessed such a thing.
Do you think he'll call her tomorrow?

Val said...

Oh Grizzled, this made my day.

The photos were terrific but your captions were even better. I really did laugh out loud. Really.

Thank you!

Val said...

Do you think she's worried if he'll respect her in the morning?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

You know, I don't claim to be anywhere close to an expert birder—actually not a real birder (no life list, etc.) just a guy who's always liked and watched birds. But last night I thought…this is just something not many ever get to see. At least that's what I thought. I'm so glad I got the shots I did (bad as they are) and could share them.

Like most females, I expect that pileated puts up with her mate's short attention span and failure to snuggle adequately since they're still together.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Hey, I thought about doing an audio background with the Shirelles singing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"

I was writing the captions while talking to my daughter on speakerphone. Givin my dismal capabilities at multitasking, and the rather ribald quips running through my head…I'm just glad I didn't get carried away.

Glad you liked both photos and captions.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Ah, you did get some good pileated photos. And yes, it is better to be lucky than good with photography--though good doesn't hurt. It's just that lucky is better.

Carolyn H.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

amazing, really amazing. He was quite the 'stud', she quite the lady. I think it is also known as a "bootie -call", although I really dislike that phrase immensely. So much so that the recent Burger King Ad where they mention such in a commercial geared for kids stunned and appalled me. I am going to write to Burger King!
Oh my, I got off on a tangent, didn't I?

Well Grizz - I am happy to know you can add "voyeur" to your list of wonder characteristics. :-)

Said with all due respect, sir.

Love Gail
peace......

giggles said...

Wow. Just wow. (I am rendered speechless...for a short moment...!)

I have heard somewhere, that it is indeed truly rare for a human to witness such things IRL....mating, predator catching prey...etc. So I beleive that you are truly, well, I'll give ya lucky...but dare I say blessed, too?

Fabulous, fabulous fabulous....

How long til little woodys are flitting about in your trees??!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

It's the old press photographer's dictum: f-8 and BE THERE! Of course, sometimes when you get lucky you still have to be able to take advantage of the situation—but these pileated shots were just point, focus (autofocus wasn't right for the situation) hold rock steady, and shoot. Talent and gear were minimal.

I've actually gotten several pretty good pileated shots lately—apparently because I've figured a sneaky tactic that occasionally works and is good for a few frames. The problem is catching the woodpecker in a good position, good light, with no movement on the bird's or my part to blur things. One day I managed 185 shots, of which I kept two. I average two or three per hundred (good to garbage) if the bird is hanging on a suet feeder; one per two hundred if it's in the tree. They are super-spooky. I swear, I'd rather shoot wild turkey photos!

Sydney said...

well my goodness. When I clicked on the mating photo it blew it up so I could see you caught him with his wings still spread out... what a shot.

You have to be alert to catch these things, camera or no, so kudos to you. And thanks for having that camera so we could all share a little in what you got to see!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

See, I watched that Burger King ad and thought "hamburger." The other wnt right over my head. Men are genetically incapable of thinking about sex and flame-broiled meat in the same commercial. Show me the burger!

Huh…can't believe you called me a voyeur. Voyager, occasionally. Voyageur, if I'm paddling my canoe about the Lake Superior country. But to come right out and refer to a man as some sort of perverted pileated peeper…nope, doesn't apply. I'll have you know I was still thinking hamburger.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Lovely stuff Scribe. You are lucky to have seen the drama and to have captured it as well is brilliant. We have a greater spotted who nests quite near and brings the babies to our peanut feeder. Do you feed peanuts? Woodpeckers cannot resist them!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

You'd better be checking in considering all the grief you been giving me over pileated shots…

Little pileated woodpeckers…hmmm. According to one of my newer reference books on woodpeckers, a pileated lays a clutch of 2-5 eggs. Incubation takes about 18 days; the young hatch after 26-28 days. Add in a few more intimate interludes prior to getting down to business, and some egg-laying time, and it would probably be close to two months before I might hope to see the young away from the nest.

I'd sure like to see them about mid-June and take their picture.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Sydney…

My Grandfather used to tell me…even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes. This was definitely my acorn.

Glad you double-clicked and noticed the wings, by the way. I thought what was rather neat myself. Again…luck.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Thank you for your compliments. I'm pleased you got to see even this much of our largest native woodpecker (the possibly extinct ivory-bill excepted.)

No, I keep resisting the issuance of peanuts as bird fare—mostly because of my squirrels, which I figure will get them all. I actually don't have any problem attracting woodpeckers; besides the pileateds, I have downy, hairy, red-bellied, and flickers visit daily—in fact there's seldom a moment when a woodpecker isn't around. But peanuts had been suggest by several readers for attracting the blue jays which I wrote about a few posts ago.

Right now, I'm engaged in two ongoing wildlife feed battles…one with the squirrels who've recently taken to chewing holes in the heavy-duty plastic containers sitting on the deck, in which I store the 50 pound bags of sunflower seeds and cracked corn. I'm probably going to have to put the drums inside a wooden box to solve that deal. I also have a raccoon who skulks about at night, climbs up in the tree where I hang the suet blocks in wire cages, sits on the limb above the feeders, and "fishes" them up, hand over hand, by their hanging chain—whereupon he proceeds to eat the suet block. He got me for two partial blocks last night and several whole ones last week. As these cost about a buck apiece, that old coon and I are going to come to some sort of agreement rather soon.

Jenn Jilks said...

So Grizzly got lucky, as did his 'pecker... :-)

Great captures & running commentary!

I find myself flummoxed with autofocus, too. I have been setting to to manual to fool my auto. Also, I take VERY large shots (3000+ px) which lets me crop them to a better, larger shot.

Anyway, had to throw in my 2 cents, or whatever I am worth!

Gail said...

Ummmmmmmmmm. some times humor doesn't come through especially if you don't use those lil smiley face things :-)

so, were you kidding about your thoughts about my referring to you as as voyeur? I kinda thought you were when you mentioned the hamburger again, but without that smiley face I can't be sure!! :-)

So............

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Ha. I'm not even going there.

Re. autofocus…I find that so often I'm trying to "pluck" a subject from between screening limbs, branches, etc. Even setting to a small degree "spot focus" area doesn't work because of the way I want to frame. The camere keeps "seeking" to focus—when I can do it almost instantly. I miss a lot more shot with autofocus on than off. It is good when tracking (panning) birds that are close enough that they fill out enough sensor/screen area that the autofocus can kick in properly—then I can forget focusing and concentrate on framing and panning.

I also shoot on a "fine" setting and the biggest file size. So I'm always working at a slower/lower speed/sensitivity; you'll then need a slower shutter speed or wider aperture. Handholding becomes an even greater problem. There's always a trade-off.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Me kid? Naaaaah. Never! :-)

P.S. You did get that—right? I'm never comfortable with the online etiquette of emoticons. I don't know half of 'em, and some of the ones I do know I'm afraid to use. It all seems rather childish coming from a serious fisherman/writer…

´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((((º>
`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º>
´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸·´¯`·.¸ ><((((((º>

Gail said...

Phew...............

gail

p.s. nice computer drawing of fish swimming, nice indeed

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I'm with this gang…

http://www.imtiredonline.com/smile/

The Solitary Walker said...

Them are sure two fulfiliated pileateds!

Lovely - your excitement, and enthusiasm, and desire to share. Thank you so much.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Them sure were…I think. At least the old boy's topknot stood up.

I'm glad you enjoyed my first act of pileated pandering.

giggles said...

Silly boy... I come over here early and often.... You never disappoint....

I'll now wait patiently for offspring photos.... Good luck!! (Tee-hee!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

And you're always expected and welcome…though you may have to change your tune re. my never disappointing if you insist on anticipating those adolescent woodpecker pix.

Of course, I may be due for another moment of blind luck by mid-June. That's about the usual spacing of such matters in my life.

Jain said...

Wonderful pictures! Your photos are always terrific but luck certainly plays a big role when it comes to wildlife.

What do I think? Er, more like a peeping tom than anything. But honored to view your photos just the same. Hoping for a baby album one day soon.

We threw up our hands over the battle and got metal trash cans with tight-fitting lids for seed and corn. You referred to the marauding raccoon as “he” but he could be a “she” and feeding cubs right now, in which case suet would be greatly appreciated, thankyouverymuch.

Nice fish! And I’m certain that Ivory-bills exist.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

To get that "baby album" luck will certainly have to pay me a repeat visit. But, you never know…

You're probably right re. the metal trash cans. Mine are the heavy-duty plastic ones from an industrial supply store. But the little buggers are chewing the rims off the lids! And now they're starting to chew through the middle of the top. I can build a box out of 2x6s, PT wood, and a lid from 3/4 plywood…but it would probably be a lot cheaper and much less trouble to just buy new metal cans.

The critter in the tree at night yanking up my suet blocks is a coon for sure—as I've chased it off a few times. Male or female I couldn't say—but one coon on the list for deportation.

I've just finished reading a book published a couple of years ago on the ivory bill—after the possible sightings. I was thinking about doing a blog on the bird and book. I hope like everything they're still around—and I do think it is possible.

Jain said...

Which book? I enjoyed 'The Grail Bird' by Gallagher, though it's 4 years old now and there may be more recent news available.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Brilliant! Photos and text - really amusing too!

(Re your earlier blogpost mention of pileated - I expect they really will need a mortgage now if they've got young 'uns on the way!!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Yes, I have that Ivory-Bill book, too, plus another one or two. But the one I just finished is "In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker" by Jerome Jackson, Smithsonian Books, 2004 (longer ago than I thought). Jackson is considered "the" world expert on the Ivory-Bill. It has been remaindered; I picked my copy up last week at Half-Price Books for $3.00. It discusses the Perl River sightings, and gives a good state-by-state historical record, and sighting reports right up to publication date.Jackson has done extensive field work, hunting for Ivory-Bills in seemingly every woods and swamp forest where there seemed any chance of finding one—including a couple of visits to Cuba. His overview of the best possible search places still left is interesting.

Anyway, that's the book. If you're much into Ivory-Bills, you probably need a copy.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

You're right—parenthood does change one's needs for housing, mortgages, income, food, and if you're a pileated, a good supply of grubs and beetles.

Jain said...

Thanks, I'll look for it!